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The letter by James, written between A.D. 50 and A.D. 60, is one of the writings of the Bible that gives us a unique perspective on how to apply a filter to the communications we hear in our daily living. James was the son of Mary and Joseph and, therefore, a half-brother to Jesus and brother to Joseph, Simon, Judas, and their sisters (Matthew 13:55). In the Gospels, James is mentioned only a few times, but at that time he misunderstood Jesus’ ministry and was not a believer (John 7:2-5). James became one of the earliest witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). This experience changed his perspective on Jesus for the rest of his earthly life. James remained in Jerusalem and formed a group of believers who prayed in the upper room (Acts 1:14). From that time forward, James’ status within the Jerusalem church only grew larger.

James was still in Jerusalem when the recently converted Saul arrived to meet with him and Peter (Galatians 1:19). Several years later, when Peter escapes from prison, he reports to James about the miraculous manner of the escape (Acts 12:17). When the Jerusalem Council 1 convenes, James is the apparent chairman (Acts 15:13, 19). He is also an elder of the church, called a “pillar” in Galatians 2:9. Later, James again presides over a meeting in Jerusalem, this time after Paul’s third missionary journey. It is believed that James was martyred about A.D. 62, although there is no biblical record of his death.

James simply described himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). His letter deals more with Christian ethics than theology. Its theme is about the visibility and the external evidence of one’s faith. James gives us testimony to the overwhelming power that came from being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection, turning him from a skeptic to a leader in the church. James’ speech at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:14-21 reveals his reliance on Scripture, his desire for peace within the church, his emphasis of grace over the law, and his care for the Gentile community. He never used his position as Jesus’ half-brother as a basis for authority. Rather, James portrayed himself as a “servant” of Jesus, nothing more than just a gracious leader.

James became aware of problems resulting from hypocritical, two-faced relationships, because he was indirectly involved in a conflict between two apostles, Paul, and Peter (Galatians 2:11-16). Peter had been showing partiality in fellowship when “certain men came from James” (Galatians 2:12). These verses show that Peter was as subject to human weakness as the rest of us. In this instance he “would eat with the Gentiles; but when they (Jewish believers sent from James) came, he withdrew and separated himself (from eating with the gentiles), fearing those who were of the circumcision.” Peter was showing each group what they wanted to see.

(James 1:5-11) 2 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls, and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

Here, James is talking about a common problem still active in our society. He called it being a double minded person, someone who speaks as in (Psalms 12:2) – “Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.” This is a person not sincere and upright in their requests, who stands up for one thing, but means another, with ulterior motives at the root of their message. We see this every day in modern politics, through our news media and embedded in sales and marketing programs. James even brings this same issue up again a second time in his letter:

(James 4:8) – “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

The Greek word translated “double minded” is dipsuchos, from dis, meaning “twice,” and psuche, meaning “mind.” James uses it to describe someone who is divided in their interests and/or loyalties, wavering, uncertain, two-faced, half-hearted. Double mindedness is a theme throughout his letter. James is really getting to the root of societal issues, the need to know the truth, stick with one story and to tell the truth! Communication, says James, always needs to be in tune with the will of God.

The first area of double mindedness James addressed concerned how we pray (James 1:5-8). James describes one who is dubious and indecisive in prayer as “a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Doubt and irresoluteness in communication with God short-circuit our relationship with Him. Are motives self-centered or God-centered? James adds, be careful what you pray for.

(James 4:3) – “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

John says, however, ask correctly, live correctly and you shall receive:

(1 John 3:22) – “and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.”

Double minded faith (James 2:14-26) is not the wavering in one’s belief in God. Rather, double minded faith is believing in God without performing the actions, or the “deeds,” that reflect that belief. James wanted his readers to know that faith means more than just belief in God. Every Christian should be aware that “faith without deeds is useless” (James 2:20). James challenges us to show tangible evidence of our beliefs: Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18).

Belief is not enough, he says. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19). It is much easier to tremble at the thought of God’s existence than it is to fear to disobey God. A classic example is ancient Israel. The Israelite’s quaked with fear before God’s awesome presence when God gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:18-19). But, when they could no longer see the evidence of God’s nearness to them, they fabricated a golden calf (Exodus 32) while they should have been trembling at the explicit instructions God had just revealed to them.

James even went on to show the double mindedness of embracing one point of the Ten Commandments while breaking another point of these laws, love. Notice that the breaking of one point of the law is the same as breaking the “whole law” (James 2:10-11). Many today claim to be righteous but James would say, “show me your righteousness by your actions!”

We cannot always control what we hear, but we can control how we filter and  what we hold in our hearts and minds. Each day Satan, the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), relentlessly inspires a multitude of improper thoughts and beliefs brought on by our non-selective hearing. We must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The outcome must be not to just know righteous behavior but to act righteous. The world will bombard with “unwholesome” communication (Ephesians 4:29) from coworkers, fellow students, and acquaintances. Movies and magazines transmit values, morals and behavior far removed from those God expects of His followers. Social Media and conventional media all make the claim of truth through the selective lens of bias and sometimes outright deception. Politicians will talk a good story while corruption reigns in their hearts.

Nevertheless, our challenge today is to assimilate God’s words and ideals and make them a part of us, keeping what is right in our minds and hearts. “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded,” counsels the writer of the epistle (James 4:8). We must pray without doubting, read God’s Word with great care, fellowship without bias, have faith while consistently keeping God’s law, and speak edifying words that inspire friends and brethren to honor God. There is no room in the heart of a Christian for hatred toward anyone, no one, not one single person says Jesus. With single minded attention to God’s will as shown in His Word, we can draw near to God and, in turn, He will draw near to us.

Contemplations

  • Where do you see the double mindedness in society today?
    • Ideas to Explore: Use the big three, community, businesses and government. Add church and family to your discussions. Has society today become accepting of double mindedness? If so, where?
  • What harm does it do?
    • Ideas to Explore: What happens when you are misled? Do we mislead our children and in turn, teach them double mindedness? If the truth is not told, what are the harms?
  • Do people have a responsibility to sort out what they hear and see what is true?
    • Ideas to Explore: Are you a person that has their favorite sources for facts? Do you take responsibility to check out what you hear? Since everything on the Internet is not true, how do you go about being a responsible person and fact checking? If someone’s ideas are fact-checked by a group, do you do further research to see what that group’s biases might be?
  • Can a person be a Christian and hate someone?
    • Ideas to Explore: Our churches are filled with people who also hate – What does hate do to the faith walk of a Christian? What are the sources for that hatred,? Biases, media, family, etc.?
  • How do you sort out and test for truth those things you hear in the world?
    • Ideas to Explore: What methods have you found to be reliable tests for facts? History, common sense, advice of respected counsel, the Bible, someone’s past record, God’s commandments?
  • Can you describe the actions of a person who is showing righteousness, faith through “deeds?”
    • Ideas to Explore: What tells you someone is righteous? What are your expectations in a relationship with someone? Is there a difference between a righteous deed and just a good deed?
  • When some other person shows they harbor hatred in their heart, what type of warning signs might that point to?
    • Ideas to Explore: Hatred, bigotry, are formed and harbored in many people – what are the sources? How do you help someone purge their heart of hate? Have you found things to do to help yourself love your enemies? Do we perpetuate hatred by our tolerance?

Notes:

  1. The Jerusalem council set the protocol for how to address certain cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles who had both accepted Christianity and were having fellowship with one another. https://bibleask.org/what-was-the-jerusalem-council/
  2. NIV New International Version Translations
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